Finding Birds on the Saranac Lake Christmas Bird Count

A Welcome Reprieve After Holiday Sickness

After battling sickness through the holidays, I was ready to head out into the woods once I began to feel better. As a result, the timing was good for the Saranac Lake Christmas Bird Count – this year held on New Year’s Day. The day sent birders across a count area which included both Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, and as I was given a portion of the count circle to cover.

Finding Count Week Birds

And while the actual count day was January 1, folks had been out checking their sites earlier in the week – after all, any species found during the count week (three days before and three days after the count day) can be added to the total list of species. So even though I was feeling crummy, Wren always makes sure I get outside and in the process we added a few birds to make sure they were part of the count week. The best of these was a flock of about a dozen Horned Larks which called as they flew over us on Lake Colby.Horned Lark - Larry

Birds at Feeders and Lake Colby

I took my time getting out on count day – I could justify doing so after being sick all week – but my excuse for my late start was because I had to check out my bird feeders for priority count species. After all, my feeders always keep a few White-throated Sparrows every winter – a species which is often difficult to find on the count. This year I’ve also managed to keep a Song Sparrow around with the White-throats and Dark-eyed Juncos, and I was charged with making sure I had tallied them on count day. So I began my day by shoveling the light snow we had received the night before and spreading new seed to attract the birds while I watched and waited, leisurely eating my breakfast.American Tree Sparrow

The birds did not disappoint us and I had soon spotted the White-throats, the Song Sparrow, and the American Tree Sparrow – all of them priorities for me to note. After counting the other species at the feeders and in my yard, Wren and I headed out to Lake Colby to cover our territory for the count. There we added more common winter birds like Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and Brown Creeper and I tried in vain to spook up a Ruffed Grouse for the list – thankfully other groups had success on that one. The coolest thing we found was a set of fisher tracks which lead us on a circuitous route through the snow, digging here near a log, and climbing a tree – and the tracks restarted after the fisher apparently jumped off the trunk into the snow.

Ruffed Grouse - Larry

After a break for lunch, we headed back out along the Saranac River, counting Wild Turkeys and finding the first Canada Goose for the count (at this time of year not always an easy species to find). We ended our day with an attempt for a Barred Owl, but came up empty in the cool and breezy conditions. Fortunately other groups had better luck with that bird.

Some Count Highlights

While counting birds during the middle of winter can frankly be a bit slow in the region, the count did turn up some nice finds. For instance, some of my friends found a Cooper’s Hawk. Other groups charged with finding the boreal species in Bloomingdale Bog tallied Grays Jays and Black-backed Woodpecker (Boreal Chickadee was a count week bird). Most exciting of all was a Long-eared Owl found by a group which had headed out owling early that morning! It’s one of the best things about Christmas Bird Counts. Birders are out canvasing every inch of an area and they are naturally going to find some cool stuff. In addition, half the fun is in sharing these sightings and many CBCs end with a compilation dinner of some sort where the results are tallied – our count ended at the Red Fox Restaurant in Saranac Lake.Long-eared Owl

Wren and I weren’t done with the count even as evening fell and we had given up on hearing a Barred Owl. After all, count week still had 3 days left, and Wren insists that we play in the woods each day – a demand which I support. So, two days after the count when we were out again hiking along Lake Colby I spotted the gray and white form of a Northern Shrike flying across the bog mat. We quickly jogged along the railroad tracks to clear the stand of trees blocking our view and re-spotted the bird up on a small spruce. The beautiful adult bird was apparently hunting for small birds or rodents and it sat as a sentinel on its post. I was happy with the find – as was our count organizer who added it to the final list. After ending last year rather sick, it appeared that the new year was off to a good start.

Plan your winter birding trip today by checking out our outdoor recreation, lodging, and dining pages. 

Categories:Birding, winter
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About The Author

Alan Belford has spent much of his life outdoors exploring and learning about wildlife – particularly birds. Alan is often out hiking, paddling, running, or cross country skiing – with his Labrador retriever Wren at this side. A certified teacher and former cross country, baseball, and ultimate frisbee coach, he loves teaching others and has taught multiple natural history (specializing in ornithology) courses for both college students and the general public. He is a licensed guide in New York State, he has traveled widely both domestically and internationally, and he is also a published travel writer and photographer – focusing on outdoor and nature writing.

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